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John Dupre
professor of philosophy of science, University of Exeter

I generally describe my field as the philosophy of biology, but that is a recent invention and for the purpose of this question it would be better to see that as part of something of much longer standing, the philosophy of nature. In that context I would be tempted to identify the greatest innovation as the recognition of evolution. The philosophical implications of this are still only beginning to be appreciated. The role of evolution as filling a gap in a fully naturalistic (ie, non-supernatural) account of the universe has been generally accepted by philosophers, though certainly it has yet to dislodge supernaturalistic views among most wider populations. But the move to seeing nature at all levels as dynamic and changing, as consisting only of processes and events rather than of things with eternally definable properties is more difficult to assimilate, perhaps because our major traditions of thought evolved within a world view of static things. The evolution of our philosophical accounts of nature is a very recent event in the evolution of nature.

John Dupre is professor of philosophy of science, University of Exeter and director of the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis). He is author of The Disorder of Things (Harvard, 2003) (buy this book from Amazon(UK)); Human Nature and The Limits of Science (Oxford, 2001) (buy this book from Amazon(UK)); Humans and Other Animals (Oxford, 2002) (buy this book from Amazon(UK)); and Darwin’s Legacy: What Evolution Means Today (Oxford, 2003) (buy this book from Amazon(UK)).